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Duke Energy has no plans to adjust compliance boundaries of coal ash ponds at Sutton

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Duke Energy says it has no plans to try to expand the compliance boundary on its coal ash ponds at the Sutton Plant near Wilmington. 

Because it’s decommissioning the coal-fired facility by the end of this year, the nation’s largest energy utility will study the most effective way to shut down the coal ash ponds.  

But a coalition of environmental groups who filed a Notice of Intent to sue the utility giant are still deeply concerned about the health of nearby Sutton Lake.

Frank Holleman is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.  The recent passage of the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, says Holleman, creates another way Duke Energy could put off dealing with pollution from the coal ash ponds at its Sutton Plant site.   A provision in the new law could allow a company to ask the Environmental Management Commission to move its compliance boundary to the property line. 

“So this change puts the advantage to the coal ash lagoons operated by the utility to allow more lenient treatment.  And, in effect, make it harder to stop their contamination of groundwater.”

Erin Culbert, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, says the company’s agenda for the Sutton Plant includes figuring out the best way to safely and efficiently de-activate the coal ash ponds. 

“There are no plans to adjust or move or expand the compliance boundary at the Sutton Plant.  In fact, we are making preparations today to begin the closure of those ash basins.  Certainly when the plant retires later this year, there will no longer be a need after some of that initial decommissioning work occurs – to have functioning ash basins into the future.”

The facility will switch to natural gas by year-end, says Culbert. 

But promises to decommission the coal ash ponds won’t stop the SELC from filing its lawsuit, says Holleman, which alleges ongoing Environmental Justice concerns and violations of the Clean Water Act. 

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.